May 28, 2004

H.K. Edgerton unfurled his Confederate battle flag on May 17 in Littleton, N.C., and started walking north.

His journey ended this week at the Capitol in Richmond, where the 56-year-old black Confederate-heritage activist held a vigil to honor his Southern ancestors and protest what he called "the destruction of Southern symbols" in the former capital of the Confederacy.

Yesterday, Edgerton – with his battle flag resting on his shoulder – joined about 50 other activists picketing DuPont’s Spruance plant on Jefferson Davis Highway.

DuPont "is a Fortune 500 company that is leading the way in dismantling the heritage of the South," said Edgerton, a native of Asheville, N.C., who has devoted his retirement years to promoting the cause of people like himself who take pride in Confederate symbols. He has been on several walks across the South.

"I don’t just march for myself," said Edgerton, who is a descendent of slaves. "I march for all Southerners, black and white. We are all family in the South."

Protesters have held weekly vigils outside the DuPont plant for almost four years, since plant officials adopted a policy in 2000 prohibiting the Confederate battle flag on the property. The flag cannot be displayed on clothing or the bumper stickers on FLAGemployees’ vehicles.

"I think all of us owe a great deal of thanks for what H.K. is doing," said Henry Kidd, an officer in the national Sons of Confederate Veterans organization. Kidd, who was at yesterday’s protest, said Edgerton’s devotion to the cause shows that Confederate symbols should not be considered racist.

The protesters – some of them DuPont employees, some retirees and some members of groups such as the Sons of Confederate Veterans – argue that DuPont’s policy is an unfair restriction on freedom of speech. The company says it is only trying to maintain a courteous work environment. Neither side has backed down.

"It’s been a long-standing core value of DuPont to have a respectful work environment," Linda Derr, the plant’s human resources manager, said this week.

Jimmy Jones, a DuPont employee who helped organize the protests after the policy was adopted, said the activists are not going to stop, even though a federal court this year dismissed a lawsuit filed against the company by the Southern Legal Resource Center.

Edgerton said he is an honorary member of 52 Sons of Confederate Veterans chapters and a former chairman of the NAACP in Asheville, N.C. He also came to Richmond last year to protest at the unveiling of a statue of Abraham Lincoln.

The descendent of slaves agreed that the Confederate flag has been misused by hate groups, but he argues that the true history of the South – a history in which blacks played a vital and honorable role – is being buried by political correctness.

"My journey is not about hate," Edgerton said. "I am not here defending the institution of slavery. Slavery is not something particular to black folk, and you can’t blame the Christian white folk of the South for slavery. The whole world is responsible for slavery."